Alice + Olivia Designer Stacey Bendet-Eisner Opens Up


stacey-bendet

In the eight years since her first alice + olivia collection launched at Barney’s to instant accolades, Stacey Bendet-Eisner, 32, has grown her line into a $65 million brand.

Now sold in over 800 stores worldwide, Bendet-Eisner’s signature collection of feminine, girly party dresses has become a staple of the celebrity set, and has won a devoted consumer following. The a + o label can now be found on menswear, shoes, and even nail polish. Most recently, they launched a sophisticated career line for women.

A self-proclaimed “tutu to work kind of girl,” Bendet-Eisner doesn’t just know how to pick fabrics — she also knows how to pick people. She partnered with Theory’s Andrew Rosen six months after the initial a + o launch, and in 2004, they tapped former Tahari VP Deanna Berkeley to serve as the company’s president.

“Stacey’s innovative approach to technique, fabrics, and design , as well as her commitment to excellence come through in every collection,” Berkeley told the High Low. “These principles have created a loyal customer following who recognize a + o as a leader in fashion and quality.”

Part of the fashionista’s success is also due to the fierce connection she has to her brand. Bendet-Eisner kindly agreed to speak to the High Low about her style, her inspirations, her views on business, and how she manages to stay as involved in the design, creation, and execution of her clothes as she was on day one.

Q: As the story goes, alice + olivia was born from a search for the perfect pair of pants. When you first began, did you ever envision owning your own global-reaching fashion company?

A: I always knew I wanted to design, and I was absolutely obsessed with the “perfect pant.” But during my days of rollerblading around New York City, running to fabric stores to pick up various upholstery fabrics, I can’t say that I really “knew” how fast alice + olivia would grow, or how big it would become. There was a moment a few years ago when the president of alice + olivia, Deanna Berkeley, turned to me and just said, “Are you ready? Because this is going to be a crazy ride…”

Q: Your brand and style are so specific and unique. What inspires your designs?

A: Everything around me inspires design. I mean, it can be anything from the pants my husband is wearing, to how a t-shirt drapes on my daughter, to the colors of flowers in a window display. I think I am just always watching and observing and photographing everything I see that strikes a visual cord!

Q: Besides feminine, sexy party dresses, you’ve also developed a men’s line, clothes for kids, a shoe line for Payless, and now accessories … what can we expect from you next? Yoga wear? Furniture?

A: Right now I am working on expanding our career line [the collection launched for the fall 2010 season] which offers a feminine yet sophisticated approach to dressing for work. I’m also focusing on our shoe collection, and just staying focused on the main line! We are also opening more alice + olivia stores and moving into new offices in 2011.

Q: Is it true that you used to be mistaken for a Barney’s salesperson because you so often went there to re-arrange the alice+olivia rack? That shows real commitment.

A: Yes! I am a crazy person. I still can’t walk into stores without re-merchandising everything on the racks. And yes, I get some crazy stares from people. I have some sort of strange “department store rack color” OCD.

Q: You’ve created an alice + olivia headquarters in Bryant Park, complete with an office, showroom, and storefront. What are the benefits to being so interconnected?

A: I love having everything together. When we move to our new offices, we will open a store nearby too. You can learn so much from watching people shop in your stores and it really helps to create ideas about what is missing in the collection, or what needs to be expanded upon.

I don’t think I could be more involved. A lot of people, once their company gets to a certain size, they sort of become removed. But I am still involved in everything. I’m at design meetings, fittings, events -– to me, that is the brand. It’s a lifestyle and it’s about understanding the girl who wears our designs. I just love what I do, so if I wake up one day and I don’t love it I wont be as involved.

Q: Alice + olivia is now sold in over 800 stores around the globe. Is there any part of the world that is especially desperate for your clothes?

A: I hear sub-Saharan Africa really needs party dresses. Ok, seriously, our international business is really exciting. We are sold in some amazing stores around the world.

Q: You have grown alice + olivia into a $65 million company, without ever bringing in outside investors. Describe what that feels like.

A: It’s amazing I guess … but I am not really a money person. I just love to design, and I love to create and I focus on making beautiful clothes. My partner Andrew always says to focus on the clothes and the sales will come. I think it helps to have a killer CFO too. (Thanks Husein!)

Q: Are there any other designers, lines, or companies you look up to or try to emulate?

A: Not really. I kind of like to think of ourselves in our own world. I of course always look to my partner Andrew for advice on how to grow … but in the world that we’re in, that contemporary “design by designer” world, you need do your own thing and form your own space.

I do like living in my own space. If you try to emulate and copy others, you’re really not going to move forward in the same way. Of course you look at other companies and take in what they did right and what they did wrong — but you need to carve your own space and move forward in your own way to be successful.